Good Riddance, 2016
I get the last Chronicle for 2016. [sings] “Fast away the old year passes,” couldn’t end fast enough for me. It was a leap year, if you’ll recall, and altogether too much “leap” for me. That extra day, I think, was the tipping point; that meant .2739726 per cent more fake news, unkeepable promises, odious posing—did you notice the candidates had their own unique arm, hand and finger gestures? When we were kids we called that “fakey.” Now I call it posturing—same thing only a two-dollar word. My presidential candidate was skullduggeried out of the nomination; my friends who supported him at the national convention learned lessons there that shouldn’t be experienced in a democratic society. In the summer I filed as a candidate for the South Bend school board, vowing to tell the truth to power. I did. I lost. OK, you might say—first time and all; and I bet I got more votes from PhDs than anybody else on the slate; if they could-a counted double . . . And outspent?! Yard signs . . . and electric billboards—for school board candidates! It was alleged to be a non-partisan contest. I believe those days are over.
My house is a “reader’s” house – a kitchen full of natural light all day, good for reading newspapers; a soft lounge chair is by a bright window only two feet from my bed; and a glass-windowed wood stove and comfy couch for the evenings. This year I ordered more books than I read, mostly political and school issues, but including wisdom-laden jewels like The Muqaddimah of Ibn Khaldun, and Bruce Chatwin’s The Songlines, both recommended by beloved friends. But when my son birthday gifted me with the first volume of the Robert Caro biography of Lyndon Johnson, a binge-reading episode of its 900+ pages blew a hole in the reading list all the way up to last week.
I was reading the Sunday Times book section this morning and caught a reference that led me to James Baldwin’s essay, “Stranger in the Village” from his Notes of a Native Son, where he said a bunch of profound things. Today, two stuck out: “People are trapped in history and history is trapped in them” is a perfect characterization of the Johnson years, and my part trapped within them. Baldwin’s essay’s closing paragraph bears quoting in part. . . . “[T]he history of the ‘American Negro problem’ [That’s what they called it back then. I call it the American Problem.] is not merely shameful, it is also something of an achievement. For even when the worst has been said, it must also be added that the perpetual challenge posed by this problem was always, somehow, perpetually met. It is precisely this black-white experience which may prove of indispensable value to us in the world we face today. This world is white no longer, and it will never be white again.” That was written around 1955. Sixty-two years later I wish America had pondered more closely what Baldwin had to say, because I fear some are trying to turn our world white again, and as the man says, t’ain’t gonna happen.
I crossed another age milestone this year. More of the memorials on the obit page now seem to be for people younger than me. After heart attack number two, ten years ago, the nurse’s chart gave the reason for my admission as: “Acute inferior wall myocardial infarction complicated by ventricular fibrillation arrest with successful resuscitation.” A good thing, that last bit. Finally, they described me as “neurologically intact.” Some have since quarreled with this description.
Wishing everyone the happiness, the courage, and especially the love to face the year ahead, I am, for Michiana Chronicles, David James.